It’s impossible for a 38-year-old player to be among the NBA’s top 15 in points, assists, steals, field goal percentage and Player Efficiency Rating (PER). But there has never been a player quite like it Lebron James. He played against a lot of opponents whose parents were in the league during his rookie season (that’s a nice way to say he’s old), and he’s still the best player most nights.
In the Lakers’ first 14 games of the season, James is averaging 26.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.5 assists while shooting an outstanding 58.6% from the field and 39.7% from three.. These are not empty stats, he is one of the most valuable players in the NBA. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Lakers are 28.4 points per 100 possessions better when they’re on the floor.
How is it possible that James is still this good at his age? Let’s see it.
Why is LeBron James still so good?
LeBron is having a great year both shooting and driving to the basket
Given that James wasn’t a great shooter entering the league, it’s surprising how good he’s become. He has increased his 3-point percentage from 29.0% as a rookie to 39.7% this season, the second-best mark of his career.
His excellent aim is not limited to the three-pointer. James is also shooting a career-high 68% from 2-point range., which is mostly due to its ridiculous lip finish. According to Cleaning the Glass, he’s shooting 81.7 percent of his three-foot shots, better than his MVP days.
If you think James has penetrated more this year, you’re right. According to NBA Stats, it is the highest number of penetrations since the 2019-2020 bubble season. The field goal percentage after drives is an absurd 67.1%. He is the best of any player to average at least six tackles per game. James is still basically unstoppable.
LeBron’s understanding of the game remains unmatched
Something that will never get old is James’ preparation and vast knowledge of the league. Norman Powell recently told a story on Paul George’s podcast about how he faced James in the Playoffs as a member of the Raptors. James knew his playbook so well that he explained to one of Powell’s teammates the play he needed to make.
James continues to display that extraordinary acumen in every game. On Sunday, he pointed out to teammate D’Angelo Russell that the Rockets were trying to set up a tackle before it happened, blocking the top pick.
James also showed his smarts on the other end of the court, clearing everyone and carrying Dillon Brooks to hit the game-winning free throws.
LeBron dominates as a small forward
In recent years, there has been a tendency to play James in higher positions. He had gotten more minutes at center, which was potentially more taxing on his body. This season, the Lakers have more size on their roster. As a result, James is playing more minutes at small forward than he has since the Lakers won the title in 2020.
Those James formations at small forward, where he’s usually paired with Christian Wood and one of Anthony Davis or Jaxson Hayes, have been terrific. In 179 possessions they are crushing opponents, outscoring them by 41.4 points per 100 possessions. A good example of how dominant James can be in these smaller games came Sunday against the Rockets. Even against perimeter defenders like Brooks, he’s too strong to stop going downhill.
James dominated Brooks, tripping him back on pushups, pulling right over him, stomping him or getting to his point and giving him the thumbs up. “very small” after a basket.
James continues to play most of his minutes at power forward, but these stints at small forward give him a nice break and allow him to overwhelm smaller players.
LeBron looks healthier than ever
James has always taken his health very seriously, spending $1.5 million a year to stay in shape through cryotherapy, hyperbaric chambers and other expenses. Despite these precautions, he has suffered a number of nagging injuries as he has aged, limiting him to an average of 52 games over the previous three years.
This season he looks healthier than ever. He has missed just one of the Lakers’ first 14 games, and his 34.4 minutes per game ranks 29th in the league. This health helps him have more practice time to improve his game.
“I’ve been able to be on the floor a lot more during the off days this year because of injuries in the past the last couple of years with my leg or whatever it may be.” James told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “So being able to do what I need to do instead of having to get up, unless we’re playing games, has allowed me to keep up the pace.” he added.
James reduces the stress on his body by being more judicious with the minutes he plays. His usage, a measure of how many possessions he uses, is at one of the lowest rates of his career. And according to NBA stats, he’s assisted on 54.3% of his shots this season, by far the highest percentage of his career.
James is still capable of taking charge of games, but he’s picking and choosing his positions more wisely, letting his teammates do the heavy lifting more often than ever.
James continues to play at a top 10 level. That’s something we shouldn’t take for granted. Estimated Plus-Minus (EPM), one of the league’s most respected impact statistics, ranks him as the fifth most influential player in the league to date. It is truly unique and still has a lot to do.